Archive for the ‘Easyjet’ Category

Travelling during a pandemic

Hopefully most readers are not travelling at the moment. Staying put is safer and, frankly, much less stressful. I am a frequent traveller to Europe for family reasons and have experienced most things – delayed trains and planes due to failed infrastructure, sick or unregistered passengers and luggage, unruly passengers, theft of my possessions, dodgy hotels, the lot. And then there is Brexit – my passport no longer seems to get me through eGates in Germany (we’ll see if that is a one-off or permanent) and, of course, as a non-EU citizen, I can only be a country for 90 days in every 180 and am barred from working.

Now before I get ripped to shreds on my hypocrisy flying as I do but also constantly banging on about climate change, let me state the following. Travelling is for family reasons, and whilst 15 years’ ago when I first established family connections in Germany, my ignorance – despite friends warning me about my carbon footprint – meant that flying was a viable option. Clearly things have changed, but my family has not. I need to travel to be with them. During the pandemic, I have been travelling less for three reasons. First, it is quite difficult; second, it is dangerous and inappropriate (lockdowns are lockdowns after all); third, I have the privileged of being able to work from home. With regard to flying, I am an advocate of a frequent-flier levy – the more one flies, the more you pay. And exponentially. That would hit me hard financially, and rightly so. I am also hopeful now of structural changes that will enable me to travel more often – or always – by train. The pandemic has demonstrated that we can work remotely. I am healthier and less stressed because of it. We will see how committed employers are to the permanent change in the future. I am hopeful, but not convinced. There is also talk of a new Trans-Europe Express to help people to move across Europe without planes.

What follows is an account of my experience to help others. Having travelled for many years, there are many like me who have family on the continent.

View from Hilton hotel, Hatton CrossI passed through Heathrow airport on Sunday evening (14 February). I travelled with British Airways – currently offering 2 flights per week Munich – London. Originally I was scheduled to come back the previous day with easyJet, but that plane was cancelled, with the next scheduled option being sometime in March. On 18 January, the British Government imposed a requirement of a negative Covid test on all arrivals. That was fine, but an extra task to fulfil prior to travelling. Travelling on a Sunday meant that I took the test on the previous Thursday giving enough time for the result to be notified assuming that weekend lab work is not likely. Sunday was, hence, the last day of validity for the test. If the plane did not go on Sunday, I’d have to take another test (€130). 

The plane arrived at its stand an hour before departure. The plane was fully boarded (busy but not full) at the scheduled departure time, 1745. But we were 45 minutes late pushing back from the stand due to an administrative error at the gate. Munich Airport would not allow the plane to go until everything was in order. Fair enough, I suppose. After being pushed back we waited motionless for about 10 minutes before the pilot announced that the plane had been damaged in the pushback. Engineers were called. 2 hours later, authorisation was given to fly.

I do not live anywhere near Heathrow Airport, and it being Sunday, the UK railway network enjoyed its usual scattering of engineering works, including on my routes home. If I was able to catch the last train/bus home, I expected to be back about 0300 – not a great prospect. But UK borders are never straightforward, and particularly with the need to demonstrate a negative Covid test and a valid passenger locator form (which includes payment of £210 for two Variant tests to be delivered to one’s home 2 and 5 days after arrival). Even though the arrivals are few, the border area was full and a long queue that snaked its way back and forth was created. Familiar image. Mingle, mingle, mingle.

The eGates were open as additional security staff were checking the documentation. My passport was rejected by the eGates and IHotel breakfast had to stand in another queue to be approved by a border official – there was only one on duty. In total, I was about 1 hour getting across the border. I decided to take a hotel rather than attempt the journey home. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel at Hatton Cross (close to the Tube Station). Hotel prices are half of what one would normally pay, so that was not too onerous, though still a cost. The view (above left) was a shade dystopian, however. But I recommend the hotel if readers are ever in the same position. I bought breakfast – one retrieves it from the kitchen and consume it in one’s room. It was fine (right).

On Monday (15 February 2021) I was able to travel to the South Coast of England. The Tube and overland trains were largely quiet. I am now observing an obligatory 10 days’ quarantine. I stocked up on non-perishables before I departed, so I have most of what I need for the duration. Safe travels.

Climate Watch: update on airlines

As predicted, the airline industry is now trying to wriggle out of its commitments on carbon emissions and climate change. Only last month, the industry agreed a protocol whereby airlines would pay to increase carbon emissions (through offsetting) based on some sort of average for 2019 and 2020. As we now know, 2020 will be a record low carbon year, and the airlines, many of which have all planes grounded because of Covid-19, are now saying that committing to this new level would make them bankrupt, notwithstanding that many of them are already.

To be fair, the industry body, ICAO, has not yet shifted, but it is being lobbied hard – understandably – by airlines to re-evaluate the threshold. Seemingly, it was already going to cost the industry between £4bn and £18bn (not much of a difference there, is there?) – which just goes to show how much more carbon they intended to put into the environment on growth projections (now, of course, unlikely).

And then there is easyJet. Readers may already have been following the story of how founder and major shareholder, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, wants the firm to cancel its order for 107 Airbus A320 Neos, planes that are necessary if easyJet is to meet its targets for carbon reduction. However, for Haji-Ioannou, that is no longer viable. By which he means under the current easyJet and industry business model and not under an ICAO – or other – environmental commitment. At what point does he smell the coffee?

Pic: Adrian Pingstone

Shareholders against the planet – knowingly or unknowingly

Stelios Haji-Ioannou (right) is founder and major shareholder (about 34 per cent) in easyJet, the budget airline. When he established the airline that challenged incumbent “full-service” airlines back in 1995, climate change was not well understood in business circles (though as we know, the science was maturing and the Earth summit had taken place 3 years’ earlier in Rio). Easyjet is now a very large airline with over 300 aircraft and a market capitalisation of £4bn.

In recent times airlines have become environmental villains responsible for almost 3 per cent of all carbon emissions (and about 12 per cent of all emissions from transport). The low-cost model of easyJet and others has encouraged travel and made it possible to commute over long distances. This has been regarded as a good thing economically. A global pandemic, however, sees airlines at the forefront of a new battle against another invisible enemy, Covid-19. That market capitalisation has collapsed, and the 300 aircraft grounded indefinitely. Easyjet – along with other airlines – may well seek state aid to support the business through the crisis.

The question of state aid for airlines – major contributors to climate emissions and hence climate change – puts the Government in a difficult position. Neo-Liberal Governments like that in the UK are generally opposed to state support. Indeed they do not even protect strategic industries and businesses from foreign buyers. So any support eventually given to scheduled airlines serving a free market (I accept that some airlines serve niche, fragile and social markets such as Logan Air) will challenge neo-liberal ideology and raise questions about ministers’ proximity to business leaders in the industry. Cash transfers to easyJet would lead to Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic receiving similar. That would be difficult to countenance.

The management at easyJet now has an added problem. Knowing full well that their industry is a problem in the carbon economy, there are two – what one calls – mitigating policies. One is more effective that the other, but neither are a solution. The first is offsetting; in the easyJet case, that involves committing to planting trees, though there are many offset schemes that involve investing in developing countries’ own mitigation policies. The second is buying a fleet of more efficient aeroplanes. Easyjet has opted for a fleet of Airbus A320 Neos and they are arriving in batches.

Stelios Haji-Ioannou is not, seemingly, very happy with this. He is now calling for the whole order to be cancelled. He believes, with some justification, seemingly, that the order threatens the solvency of the company. Moreover, as Nils Pratley in the Guardian writes, the company may need to be recapitalised: “Haji-Ioannou says he would support a rights issue – as he should given that his family has collected £620m in dividends since 2011, including £60m this month – but he is vowing to make his backing dependent on an Airbus cancellation. Given the size of his shareholding, he has some clout.”

So here is the conflict of capitalism laid bare. Without the new planes the company will see carbon emissions increase and probably be subject to some regulation or tax (or both). The company will also lose considerable customer credibility on anything it says in the future about caring for the environment. But with the planes, at best shareholders will have to recapitalise, at worst, the company goes under. Plus, very rich man determines the future of the planet. Which side are you on?

Picture: Audiopedia

The easyJet cancellation approach

It is the first cancellation that I have experienced this year with easyJet on the Munich route. EasyJet got through all of last winter’s snow only to be felled this time by an English summer. I was due to fly on Wednesday 11 July at 1835. It had been rather a stormy day and this had impacted on Gatwick Airport. The pilot said that the ‘Terminal’ had been closed for some of the day. Suffice to say, we had to take a bus from South Terminal to North Terminal where the plane was parked. Certainly out of position.

Once on board, the pilot told us that we did not have permission to fly. But clearly as an old hand on this route, he knew that if he did not get the plane in the air by 2030 we would not be going because of Munich airport’s strict night closures. Intriguingly, the pilot took us to a holding position near to the start of the runway. He communicated his thinking and his communications with both air traffic control and easyJet control in Luton. 10/10 for initiative and communication. It was not enough. We were cancelled.

Unfortunately, easyJet are a bit like their planes – great in the air, not very versatile on the ground. I opted to go home, a luxury most people do not have. They had to join a queue of around 200 people or so to try to get on another flight and find a hotel. In all, I counted 8 easyJet cancellations that evening.

By the time I had got home, the cancellation was confirmed and I was able to get on a flight on Friday 13 July. So not so bad. Unfortunately, my partner had attempted to book me on another flight and – in the heat of the moment – got the wrong direction (Munich – London). Changing bookings with easyJet is not difficult, unlike other airlines, but they do charge for the pleasure. In this case 86 Euros (changing name and date so that she can fly to me next month). All credit to easyJet on this occasion, they have refunded the charges, having accepted the ‘heat of the moment’ decision-making. Always worth writing to them.

Where are we going?

Whilst on the subject of Easyjet, a couple of weeks ago I got on the plane to the usual cabin announcement. Except this time it was a shade uncertain. “Welcome aboard this easyJet flight shortly departing for….Germany.”

Can you be more specfic?

Their convenience?

Look, I am a big big user of Easyjet services. It is a complex business, running an airline. I know. I fly most weeks out of London Gatwick on a Friday evening and return late on a Sunday evening. The return journey is always an issue. I now park my repaired Vivaro at the airport at great expense because Sunday rail services are unreliable and inadequate.

Easyjet have taken to dropping me off at the wrong terminal. The flight is scheduled to arrive at South Terminal (where the van or trains are), but the pilot parks up at North Terminal. That despite the fact that I have received an email from Easyjet telling me that I will be arriving at South Terminal and if I have any friends or family intending to meet me, that I should tell them that I will be arriving at South Terminal. Fortunately, I have no friends or family to meet me. Had I, I am sure they would think the plane was lost.

I actually spoke to the pilot on Sunday (6 May). He told me that it was not Easyjet’s fault, rather that of Gatwick Airport who allocate the gates.